Quick Reviews: 'The Nightingale', 'Waves' | Historical Thriller, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell
When the credits of The Nightingale started rolling I was feeling very confused because I had no idea if I liked the movie or if I found anything overly artistic about it. After sleeping on it, I found some answers to the latter question but was still in the dark about the former. Friendly warning: even though this follow-up from the director of 'The Babadook', Jennifer Kent, is not horror, it still is one of the most horrific films of the year. Touching subjects like colonialism, sexual assault, racism and murder, it feels important and original in retrospect.
The main story where we follow an Irish convict named Clare and her experiences doesn’t give you any sort of soft treatment right from the beginning. Even though it’s a hard and nauseating watch, all directorial and acting choices serve the purpose to a (rightfully) uncomfortable degree. Aisling Franciosi who plays Clare is fantastic with her surprisingly physical role while the standout performance is provided by Baykali Ganambarr as Billy. He delivers some powerful dialogue with full conviction while also bringing some levity with his remarks and movements about blackbirds.
There is quite a bit of dialogue here that is overhanded, sometimes to the point of frustration. The film is trying to preach so much to a viewer that it comes out as repetitive, making the minute count rise too much. And as much The Nightingale is grounded in reality and historical events, the fairytale-like ending feels like a magic trick by the writer, designed to dazzle you instead of making you feel like the beginning does. Luckily there are more ''should’ve beens'' than ''could’ve beens'' but there still are should’ve beens at the end of the day.
Smileys: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, story
Frowneys: Ending, Harry Greenwood
It’s not a film for the lighthearted, but it’s an important one.
In Waves, director-writer Trey Edward Shults lays it all out on the table creatively. What follows is an extremely memorable expedition to one family’s life and their emotional handling of loss. Presented with changing aspect ratios that are presumably supposed to form a wave of their own, the film hits both highs and lows. We start with a family's teenage son Tyler's (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) perspective before shifting to daughter Emily's (Taylor Russell).
Shults' direction is the absolute peak of the movie starting with twirling shots inside a car full of high schoolers. Impressive shots don’t end there, instead they are brought back with a lot of the action happening in cars throughout the story, each with incredibly wise decisions that place the viewer literally in the passenger seat to see the plot unravel. Russell brings out a star performance as Emily, notably in the second half as the perspective shifts on to her and her journey of emotional growth. There’s a lovely fishing scene between Emily and Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), the kids’ dad, where Russell shines with some heartfelt acting. One thing that might go unnoticed by most is the film’s use of lights and colour schemes which help bring some flourishes for the director and cinematographer to work with.
As mentioned before, Waves uses different aspect ratios throughout and while it is creative, it comes off only as a gimmick and turns out to be quite distracting while watching. This might just be an editing or perspective issue that could’ve been handled with more vision. While Russell does thrive in the second half, it falls a bit flat compared to the explosive and exciting first half. It was a bit of a shame that it revolved a lot around Emily’s boyfriend, Luke’s (Lucas Hedges) storyline when the whole build up in the beginning was about the Williams family. I felt like they turned their attention to a much less interesting and captivating story.
Smileys: Directing, lighting, Taylor Russell
Frowneys: Structure, ending
Waves ends up with its head above the surface, though with some breathing problems.